Right of Thirst opens with cardiologist Dr. Charles Anderson saying good bye to his wife - as he assists with ending her life.
With her passing, Charles is lost, functioning but not really living. He attends a lecture by Scott Coles, who has started a relief organization to help earthquake victims in a third world country. On a whim, Charles offers to be the doctor of the refugee camp Coles is setting up.
"I suppose another world was what I wanted most."
Charles ends up in an unnamed third world country, high in the mountains, with Scott Cole's girlfriend as the other staff member as well as a resident cook and his nephew. In charge of the camp is military officer Captain Sanjit Rai.
But the refugees don't come. When they attempt to make contact with the local village, Rai discourages them. Anderson's skills are needed to help with a local child, but that is the extent of the use of his medical skills. They are visited by further military personnel, as there may be enemy action in the area, but still the camp remains empty of refugees.
Frank Huyler has created a powerful character driven novel. The interplay between the three main characters, each from a different world and their views on class, aid and life are compelling.
The title 'Right of Thirst' had me mystified in the beginning. It is explained part way through the novel and I think it is the catalyst for the entire plot.
"Our religion came from the desert. From Arabia. Water was very precious to them. And so one of our oldest laws is that we must give water to travelers. That is why we always give tea to our guests."
"Offering tea is an obligation?"
"Yes. In our scripture this is called the right of thirst."
Right of Thirst explores the obligation that Western countries and populace feel to provide aid to countries that they have deemed in need. What happens when that offering is not embraced? Charles has mixed feelings when he is at the camp. He is angry and annoyed at the local population for not being suitably impressed and thankful for what is being done for them.
"What is wrong with you people? Why do you do this? I'd like to know why I came all this way for nothing."
The reply make him even more unhappy.
"We did not ask you to come here. And now that you cannot be a hero, you are angry. You are trying to help yourself, not us."
Huyler's writing is beautiful. The detail and thought in every exchange and description is worth stopping, rereading and savouring. The juxtaposition between Western idealism and Third World reality is explored in this thought provoking and timely novel. Huyler himself is a physician and has lived in various countries. His work has a ring of authenticity. I found it especially interesting as I had just read and reviewed a memoir of a young doctor in a refugee camp.
Highly recommended. Read an excerpt of Right of Thirst, new from Harper Collins. A reading guide for book groups is also available. A portion of sales from this book are being donated to ProSorata by the author.